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Sunday Night Live Sermons

LIVING WITH CONFIDENCE

Ephesians 3:7-13
14th September 2003

Two people from a city travel agency came to our Thursday lunch-time service for the first time last week. After the service, I thanked them. They said this was the only week they could come because at lunch-time their agency is always so busy with customers, but not today. Being a bit slow to connect my own prayers for that day with their occupation, I asked them, "Why are you not busy today?" Their reply was simple: "September 11th. No one has confidence to book flights today!"

The impact of terrorism has a profound effect upon ordinary people travelling overseas. We have seen it in Wesley Mission's conference centres, where immediately after September 11th in New York and October 12th in Bali, over 5000 overseas guests cancelled their holidays and conferences in our centres at Vision Valley, Mangrove Mountain Retreat, Pendleton Farm Retreat and here in Wesley Centre. They were people living without the confidence to travel. So this week, I immediately put in an order for our journey to America next January, when during my holidays, as usual, we will go to Tennessee where I lecture students in Urban Mission. Ordering this week, shows others we have confidence in living. Our Prime Minister is right to remind us that to lower our confidence in going about our normal living, is to allow the terrorists to have a victory.

How can you live in confidence when life is so unsure and so unsettled? In 1978 I published a book, "The Secret of Confident Living." It was praised highly by Norman Vincent Peale in New York as "a truly indispensable aid to successful living."

Dr Alan Walker in Sydney said, "it will bring self-understanding to many struggling in the often turbulent sea of living." I followed it by another in 1984 entitled "Confidence in Time of Trouble." Both of these books sold out completely, purchased largely by people who wanted to find confidence in living. In those days the issues I wrote about, concerned people who were controlling fear, calming anxiety, handling anger and aggression, mastering feelings of failure, defeating depression, coping with pressure and so on. Today, the issues are "Why do fundamentalist Islamic terrorists hate us so much when we are basically decent people who want to improve the lot of the poor in the world?" "Why do extremists target innocent civilians, women and children in a war that is not declared, when the enemy is invisible, when the means are car bombs and aircraft baggage bombs?" "Why do people I have no relationship with whatever, want to kill me and my family?" "Why can I not go about my life confidently instead of having to go through security checks and limits on my travel?" "Why must I live in fear?"

Christians live in confidence. We are not foolhardy, or silly risk takers, or ignorant of the dangers, but we live in confidence. Paul writes: Ephesians 3:12 "In union with Christ and through our faith in Him we have the boldness to go into God's presence with all confidence." Why do Christian live in confidence? What is the secret of living confidently when the world is tearing itself apart? In the business book, "Competing For the Future" published by Harvard Business School Press (1994, p51f) authors Gary Hamel and C.K.Prahalad speak of an experiment with monkeys, some bananas, and a pole.

Four monkeys were put into a room with a pole in the centre and a bunch of bananas on top of the pole. When the first money climbed the pole and reached for the bananas, he was hit with a shower of cold water, to which he reacted with a squeal, and scampered down the pole. The same thing happened with the other monkeys. They each gave up the quest for the bananas. Then one monkey was removed and a new monkey was added. When the new money started to climb the pole one of the old moneys yanked him down. This happened a few times and the new monkey learned the lesson - he was not to climb the pole. One by one the old monkeys were removed and new monkeys entered. Each time a new monkey climbed, he was yanked down. When all the old monkeys had been replaced, their replacements were still yanking down any new monkey yet none of them had even experienced the cold shower. Then the shower was removed. Still no monkeys ventured up the pole. They had been conditioned not to venture.

That is happening all over the world right now. People are afraid to fly, afraid to venture. Airlines have closed down, and tourism has slumped. Terrorism has dinted confidence. People have been conditioned not to climb poles to reach bananas! Yet life must be lived with confidence. People must take risks. We are more than conditioned monkeys. Not to take the first step is to remain paralysed. God moves with the movers. But He doesn't come alongside until we move. Moses prayed for the Red Sea to part and allow them through and then marched into the water. Only then did the waves part. I think this is the background to the promise of God later written by Isaiah, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you." Isaiah 43:2

Most people are risk averse, fear-ridden, safety conscious, and therefore do not live confidently. But every baby takes risks with every first step, with every attempt to crawl down stairs, when he or she first goes down a slide or first mounts a bicycle. But without those first steps they will never live. Bad things happen, like September 11th and October 12th, and that inhibits and restricts. Some people now never want to do anything for the first time. The terrorists have won when you lack confidence in living.

Paul gives us a clear alternative. Ephesians 3:7-13 "I was made a servant of the gospel by God's special gift, which He gave me through the working of his power. I am less than the least of all God's people; yet God gave me this privilege of taking to the Gentiles the Good News about the infinite riches of Christ, and of making all people see how God's secret plan is to be put into effect. God, who is the Creator of all things, kept His secret hidden through all the past ages, in order that at the present time, by means of the church, the angelic rulers and powers in the heavenly world might learn of His wisdom in all its different forms. God did this according to His eternal purpose, which He achieved through Christ Jesus our Lord. In union with Christ and through our faith in Him we have the boldness to go into God's presence with all confidence."

1. GOD HAS A PURPOSE FOR EACH OF US.

For Paul the purpose was clear. He had found meaning and purpose in his life. "I was made a servant of the gospel by God's special gift." God had called him to be a minister and gave him power to do that work. Nowhere does Paul say that he wanted to become a minister.

But God called him and gave him a special challenge to speak to people. In every generation God calls people to spread the message. That gave Paul direction in His life, but that calling was not because Paul was a richly talented person. Paul admitted v8, "I am less than the least of all God's people." But God took something that this world despised, and used it for good. That is true for each of us.

Today people are be bedazzled by scientific achievement and cowed by fundamentalist terrorism that each person's significance seems to shrink. But there is a more beyond scientific achievement and fundamentalist atrocities. That lies in the discovery of personal meaning and purpose behind everything. Life was not meant to be meaningless, full of despair, disappointment and disillusionment. A person, who is overwhelmed by negative forces like these, will never do anything for the first time. He or she will be impotent in everything. It is essential to discover life has point, purpose and meaning. It is essential to discover life has faith, hope and a knowledge that God is calling you.

2. THE CENTRALITY OF THE CHURCH.

Paul is claiming that the church has a special role to play in the history of the world, because it is through the church that such a message of hope, meaning and purpose is brought to people. You can live with boldness and discover confidence in your life, but you have to discover it. Central to helping people find their sense of meaning and purpose lies the church. "God gave me this privilege", says Paul. What privilege? "God gave me this privilege of taking to the Gentiles the Good News about the infinite riches of Christ."

Every preacher can tell the Good News - there is a point to living, there is purpose and hope in Jesus Christ. That is the central message of the Gospel, v9 "making all people see how God's secret plan is to be put into effect." That is part of the church's ministry: that all people might know that God wants them to be part of His kingdom. v10 "In order that at the present time, by means of the church..." Can you see how members of the church are integral in the plan of God? You are part of His great purpose. You are part of His family. Even in the heavenly places there will be angels and principalities and powers, that will hear the message of God's plan for mankind because you people, the church, believe.

3. BOLDNESS WITH CONFIDENCE.

"In union with Christ and through our faith in Him, we have the boldness to go into God's presence with all confidence." You now "have the boldness to go into God's presence with all confidence." We live with confidence ready at any time to go into the presence of God because of Jesus. His blood has cleansed you from all sin. His forgiveness has taken away your burden of guilt. His life has overcome death. His death upon the cross has given you hope and purpose in the life to come. His will is now your peace and His direction for living puts purpose into the way you live. Therefore, do not be afraid of evil in the world, because God is working His purposes out. Even death has a place for us. As Paul wrote: 2 Corinthians 5:6 "We are always full of courage. We know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord's home. For our life is a matter of faith, not of sight. We are full of courage."

We need to live with confidence in God, in ourselves and in the future. No one can predict the future. The Clairvoyance Society had to cancel its annual meeting because of unforeseen circumstances. The singer, Dionne Warwick's "Psychic Friends Network" went bankrupt because the members couldn't see it coming!

There is no way in this life today that you can live risk-free. There is no way in this life today you can be guaranteed safety. The only alternative that makes sense is to live, and love - in confidence - by faith. God is making a new society, the church, a new people with a new lifestyle. You have come into the church in order to make His message known. God has given to you because of your union with Christ and through your faith in Him, confidence that you can go into His presence and live boldly. Life is not just one unconnected event happening after the other. Life is no mere pointless exercise of miserable despairing things. Everything that happens is part of God's plan if, as Paul says, "you are in union with Christ; if you have faith in Christ." That is the key point.

Through faith you are in union with Him. When you are in union with Him you live with confidence before God and through the rest of the world. It starts with faith. Then the Bible requires you to repent of your sin. Then you should confess your sins and be baptised. Then seek the filling of the Holy Spirit. Thus cleansed, accepted, renewed, empowered you are fortified within in the way you live. God is with you. They are the steps you are required to take so you can live in confidence.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.